The Board of Selectmen this week approved a legal bill that brings the town’s total spending in legal fees to about $200,000 halfway through this fiscal year, against a budgeted amount of $300,000 for all of fiscal year 2022.
The spending in legal fees follows a year that saw New Canaan exceed its legal fees budget by more than $50,000, records show.
Though the Board approved the most recent legal bill with no comment during its regular meeting Tuesday, Selectman Kathleen Corbet has voiced concerns in the past about the spending.
She noted the high amount of taxpayer funds spent on legal fees last fiscal year during the Board’s June 15 meeting, and voiced concerns again at the Oct. 19 meeting. There, she noted that the town already had spent more than $90,000 on legal fees during the first quarter of fiscal year 2022.
In response, Moynihan said, “Legal fees are lumpy. We can always put the brakes on later, stop doing things.”
Last fiscal year, the town spent a sizable portion of its legal fees on public records-related matters—the town spent $48,662.50 on three FOI matters alone, according to a legal bill that the Board of Selectmen approved at its June 15 meeting.
In cases where denied public records requests are appealed to the state or complaints are lodged, the town has opted to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending itself.
Not all violations of sunshine laws result in complaints or hearings before the FOI Commission.
Recently, for example, the minutes for a special meeting of New Canaan’s legislative body held Nov. 10 were received Dec. 21 by the Town Clerk’s office, according to a printed copy reviewed Wednesday by NewCanaanite.com. Under state law, meeting minutes must be made public within one week of the session they record. A physical copy of the Town Council’s meeting minutes on file at Town Hall includes this note at the top: “Draft minutes received 12.21.21 9 am by Town Clerk.” (That language does not appear in the meeting minutes posted on the town’s website.)
The legal bill approved during this week’s Board of Selectmen meeting showed that the town has spent $194,535.32 on legal fees in the first half of fiscal year 2022. The largest individual items on that bill are the town attorney’s retainer ($51,000), “220 Elm St. transaction” ($43,728.50) and “library MOU” ($29,637).